By Jonnie Taté Finn
BRANDON - Russell Stough feels constant pain in his right arm.
Sometimes it's like razor blades have been dragged over his fingers.
Other times it's as though his hand is bent backward or that it's
swollen to 20 times its normal size and about to explode.
The thing is, most of his arm isn't there. It stops just above
where an elbow should be.
"They call it phantom pain, where the brain thinks the arm is
still there," said Stough, 33, whose right arm was amputated last
month after a freak hunting accident. "The pain is so severe.
Sometimes I feel the exact pain as I did on that day."
As Stough works to recover, friends, family and area businesses
are stepping up to help with medical bills. They will host a benefit
at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 3 at the Brandon Golf Course to help the family
Goose hunting trip gone terribly wrong
On Dec. 14, Stough of Brandon was hunting geese on private land
northwest of Pierre with clients and associates as part of an annual
trip with his employer, Midwest Truck Insurance of Brandon.
Though Stough refused to say more about the incident, citing his
emotional frailty, it is described in an official report from the
South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks.
According to the report and Stanley County Conservation Officer
Josh Carr, Stough ran out of shotgun shells while hunting and went
to his hunting partner for more. His partner was retrieving a goose
at the time, and as Stough approached, a flock of geese flew
overhead. As Stough and the other hunter crouched down to hide from
the geese, the other hunter laid down his gun, a semiautomatic
Then a dog the two were hunting with stepped on the trigger, and
the gun went off less than six inches away from Stough. The blast
hit him just below the elbow of his right arm, according to the
Because Stough was about a half-mile from the rest of the hunting
party, he and his hunting partner had to walk to meet them. The
group then began the 18-mile trip to Pierre. An ambulance met Stough
along the route and transported him to St. Mary's Healthcare Center
Stough picked up the story from there.
"It was too much of a trauma for them to handle, so they called
hospitals in Minneapolis, Rochester, Sioux Falls and Denver," Stough
said. "Finally, the (University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha)
accepted me. I flew out of Pierre at 9:30 (p.m.)
"I remember all of it. I was conscious the whole time. I even
remember the ambulance workers' names. It's what kept me going. I
had to stay focused, because I knew I was losing a lot of blood," he
"It was 10:50 (p.m.) when I got to Omaha. And it was a little
after 2 (a.m.) when I went into surgery."
The surgery lasted more than seven hours.
Doctors couldn't save the arm, so it was amputated above the
elbow. Stough was in the hospital for a week before he came home on
Dec. 21. An infection brought Stough back to Omaha two days after
Christmas, and since then, he's gone back several times for checkups
and pain management.
Loss of limb prompts difficult emotions
Eric Watson, an orthopedic surgeon at the Orthopedic Institute in
Sioux Falls, performs two or three amputations a month. Watson is
not Stough's doctor. Although he works primarily with lower
extremities, such as feet and ankles, Watson is familiar with an
amputee's emotional and physical states of mind.
"People who undergo a traumatic amputation generally have a
harder time dealing with it than, say, someone who has diabetes and
has been in pain for a long period of time," Watson said. "If they
were perfectly normal beforehand, it's more difficult, emotionally."
Watson said there's a noticeable difference between a patient who
loses a lower extremity and one who loses an upper extremity, such
"A lower extremity amputee will more than likely be more
functional than an upper extremity amputee, because there's less
fine motor skills a foot is used for," Watson said. "For an upper
extremity amputee, there's much more day-to-day stuff you can't do."
Family affected by accident as well
Stough said coping with the loss of his limb has been difficult for
the family, which includes Stough's wife, Tera, and the couple's
"It's really had a bearing on the family," Stough said. Not just
financially - with fuel, hotel and medical bills piling up - but
emotionally, as well, he said.
"Just sitting here having my arm exposed makes me uncomfortable,"
he said during a recent interview. "I can't even look at myself in
the mirror. It makes me break down. It's a grieving process."
Working and building things with his hands were talents in which
Stough once took great pride. This year, he had hoped to finish the
basement, present his daughter with a homemade playhouse for her
second birthday and teach his son how to play hockey.
With one arm, those goals seem unreachable now.
"I feel like I'm half the man I once was," Stough said. "I can't
fulfill the needs of my family anymore. People say it's just an arm,
and yeah, it's just an arm, but it's more than just an arm to me.
There's just so many things I can't do. My daughter helps me put on
my coat or tie my shoes. I can't even pull myself into the truck.
It's a completely different life."
Tera Stough agreed. In addition to running a home day care, she
handles many of the duties the couple once shared and also fills the
role of nurse for her husband.
"I sleep on a chair next to the bed so I can give him his
medicine every two hours," she said, adding that she can't sleep in
the couple's queen-sized bed because Stough has to prop both his
stump and left arm on pillows. "I set the alarm for midnight, 2, 4
and 6. Then I'm up at 7 with the kids.
"He can't even change our baby's diapers," she said. "If she's
crying in the middle of the night, he can't go over to her and pick
Prosthetic arm might cost $150,000
Stough hopes a prosthetic arm will bring back some sense of
normalcy. The high-tech arm Stough wants allows the body's own
nerves and muscles to interface with the prosthesis, controlling and
directing its movements in a manner similar to the brain's control
of a natural arm, thus allowing him to open and close the prosthetic
The problem is the state-of-the-art arm will cost about $150,000.
And because of its short lifespan, a new arm would have to be
fitted every five to seven years.
"I can't imagine having a hook," Stough said of his plans to get
a prosthetic limb. "And a rubber arm or hand does nothing for me."
The February benefit could help Stough raise enough money to buy
the prosthetic he wants and pay off some medical bills.
The event will include food, music, gambling and a silent auction
with items including a Black Hills Gold watch, gift certificates
from various businesses, remote car starters, Canaries and Skyforce
tickets and rounds of golf from area courses, among other things.
Funds also have been set up at the Brandon Wells Fargo and Home
Federal banks for people to make donations.
"This whole thing started about a week ago," Stough said of the
"The Brandon community has really stepped up to the plate."
Reach Jonnie Taté Finn at 331-2320.